Emphasize on the opportunities that innovation can bring about to address development issues and wider social change
While the global advancement of women over the last few years cannot go unnoticed, much work remains to reach gender equality. Innovative in women empowerment and gender equality approaches are needed to ensure that women – from entrepreneurs to informal workers to C-suite executives – are empowered to actively engage in their economies. Technology is a unique avenue to advance the economic empowerment of women and girls. However, technology can also inhibit women’s empowerment by enabling harassment and other unintended consequences.
From the eradication of foot binding to foot pedalled water pumps, from the Pill to property rights, innovation can transform women’s lives. Virtuous circles of change can be sparked by women’s use of a seemingly simple technology; a shift in social attitudes about what is possible for women; or increased access for women to economic opportunities, employment, savings and credit.
More than at any other time in history, the world is poised to leverage innovation in women empowerment and gender equality to improve the lives of poor women and empower them to realize their potential. Innovation and women’s empowerment are rarely discussed within the same context but each has essential value for human progress. Both innovation and gender equality underpin all of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and both require thinking and acting beyond existing, predefined parameters. Both endeavours require breaking the mould.
As the imperative to ensure women’s participation and rights in social, economic and political progress gains urgency, innovation in women empowerment and gender equality presents a particularly exciting pathway for seizing the present moment and achieving the goals of women’s empowerment and gender equality—goals that have been so difficult to realize in the past.
At the most basic level, innovation in women empowerment and gender equality can benefit women simply by improving their well-being in terms of health, nutrition, income, even life span. Beyond vital improvements in well-being, innovations can lead to women’s empowerment, securing freedom and resources for women to make decisions, build confidence and act in their own interests. Deeper and truly transformative innovations reshape men’s and women’s roles on a longer-term basis. Examples abound where only yesterday women were immobile, but today move freely, where women were silent but today have a voice, where women were dependent but today are the engines of progress for their families, businesses and communities.
It is well known that innovation and shifting gender roles are each catalytic processes that drive change.
Innovation in women empowerment and gender equality have the potential to address a wide spectrum of areas where women are disadvantaged knowledge and information, reproductive health, infrastructure, livelihoods, mobility and communications, among others. Technologies—such as the Internet, cell phones, alternative energies, water filtration and sanitation, reproductive technologies, agricultural innovations—can empower women on multiple levels and spheres: individual, household, economic, social and political.
Both innovations resulted in a positive impact on women and experienced successful diffusion processes, going to scale very rapidly. A technology such as the Pill, directly aimed at women, had a clearly perceived benefit and effectively enhanced a woman’s control over strategic, fundamental life interests—reproduction and sexuality—for large numbers of women.
SOCIAL NORM CHANGE:
Innovations to change social norms can be catalytic because women’s empowerment requires the transformation of inequitable gender attitudes, behaviours and harmful practices, such as child marriage, female genital cutting as well as restrictions on women’s mobility and their rights to education, health, work and civic participation.
The findings show that innovations can dramatically reshape gender norms that constrain women when serious, national level commitment is mobilized at an opportune time, and in a conducive social, economic and political environment.
Innovations that advance women’s economic resilience support women in overcoming livelihood barriers and produce a more equitable flow of financial and non-financial opportunities and benefits. These innovations include products and services such as microfinance, including credit, savings and insurance; legal and social strategies to increase women’s access to productive assets; and viable employment opportunities.